McKnight was born 26 February 1956 in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany, to an Air Force family; therefore, he moved around a lot in childhood, although he calls Colorado home. He earned degrees from Pikes Peak Community College (A.A.), Colorado College (B.A.) and University of Denver (M.A.); he is also Phi Beta Kappa and received an honorary doctorate from Colorado College.
As a teacher, McKnight has been a professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He also taught at the University of Pittsburgh, but left when he learned that other faculty told racist jokes about blacks when he wasn't in their presence. As of 2002, he is the Hamilton Holmes Professor of English at the University of Georgia in Athens; he was also the first person to hold that position.
McKnight has had two extended stays in Africa, teaching English in Dakar, Senegal, from 1981 to 1982, and another in 1985 as part of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. He says that "he didn't truly consider himself a writer until he went to Africa", partly because that he was writing intensely for several hours a day while he was there, and also because, as he states, "when I left that place I had done something to myself in a really profound way--imprinted myself with the written word in ways that I hadn't prior to that". He also states that after a few weeks there, he became more aware of what he calls his "Africanness" by recognizing the same cadences in the voices of Senegalese women that he knew listening to his mother and his aunts growing up.
- He Sleeps. Macmillan. 2002. ISBN 978-0-312-42104-5. (reprint)
- Moustapha's Eclipse. University of Pittsburgh Press. 1988. ISBN 978-0-8229-3589-6.
- I Get on the Bus. Little, Brown. 1990. ISBN 978-0-316-56055-9.
- The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas. Little, Brown. 1992. ISBN 978-0-316-56056-6.
- White Boys. Henry Holt and Co. 1999. ISBN 978-0-8050-6171-0.
- African American Wisdom. New World Library. 1994. ISBN 978-1-880032-34-3.
- Wisdom of the African World. New World Library. 1996. ISBN 978-1-880032-56-5.
- Shannon Ravenel, ed. (1992). "Quitting Smoking". New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 1992, Volume 2002. Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1-56512-011-2.
- Champion, Laurie (1999). "Reginald McKnight". In Emmanuel Sampath Nelson. Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood. pp. 314–318. ISBN 978-0-313-30501-6.
- Williams, Phil. "Noted Writer Regianld McKnight to Become Hamilton Holmes Professor at UGA; Honors Pioneer of Campus Integration". University of Georgia News Bureau. Archived from the original on 1 November 2005. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
- Walsh, William (1994). "We Are, in Fact, a Civilization: An Interview with Reginald McKnight". The Kenyon Review. 16 (2): 27–42. JSTOR 4337030.
- "Archway eNews: Recruiting and retaining top faculty". University of Georgia. Archived from the original on 2007-04-04. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
- Ashe, Bertram D. (2001). "'Under the Umbrella of Black Civilization': A Conversation with Reginald McKnight - Interview". African American Journal. 35 (3). Retrieved 1 April 2011.
- Sachs, Sylvia (7 April 1988). "Ex-Marine awarded 1988 Drue Heinz Literary Prize". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
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